Thursday, May 24, 2012

Writing tips - best of

Last month, my friend and former in-person-critique-group buddy Margo (permalink to her blog on the right!) took part in an interesting blog challenge: a whole month of top ten lists organized by alphabet.  It made for fun reading, and I kind of wish I'd joined in – I’m sure you all have noticed how much I love lists.

My favorite of her month's posts was her Top Ten Writing Tips. I love that idea - writing seems to be such an amalgamation of tips and tricks and lengthy discourses on how to make your pacing work.  So for this post, I decided to compile my favorite tips and quotes and pieces of advice for this post - though I came up with six instead of ten. Nothing too lengthy, just the single sentences or short paragraphs that were real eye openers from me, and ideas I revisit again and again (except when I lose the links).

1) Making a list of ten ideas (this was also on Margo's list).
I've written about this before, in this post, and gave an example. Basically, if you're trying to come up with an idea or solve a problem, you write out a list of ten possible answers. Those first ten, or at least the first seven, are generally clich├ęs. Once you get past those, the truly fascinating ideas start to flow.

2) First step toward a character driven story
All right, I can't find my link for this one, but I found one piece of advice for how to tell if your story is heading toward being plot driven or character driven: Does your story start with something happening to your character? Or does your story start because of something your character did?

3) For those of us who get too attached to individual words:
Writer Erin Bow says:  "No writing is wasted. Did you know that sourdough from San Francisco is leavened partly by a bacteria called lactobacillus sanfrancisensis? It is native to the soil there, and does not do well elsewhere. But any kitchen can become an ecosystem. If you bake a lot, your kitchen will become a happy home to wild yeasts, and all your bread will taste better. Even a failed loaf is not wasted. Likewise, cheese makers wash the dairy floor with whey. Tomato gardeners compost with rotten tomatoes. No writing is wasted: the words you can't put in your book can wash the floor, live in the soil, lurk around in the air. They will make the next words better.”

4) This perfectly sums up what I strive for in my characters. 
Holly Lisle: ” “Fiction---good fiction, anyway---is dream made flesh, given purpose and drive, and set on a quest to show us the best in us and to give us the power and the tools to dream beyond reality's 'merely good enough' to a vision of what is truly great... ...

and then to give us the stories of men and women of character who in turn inspire those of us who dare to reach for the truly great within ourselves.

THAT is why you write fiction."

 5) This isn't a tip as much as a perspective that really fits how I feel about writing, and about money, and the perspective I sometimes see that pure art should be unconnected to money.
Greg Curtis : "“People say that writers write for money. From my own experience that's not true. I write for me. I publish for money.”

6) From Neil Gaiman: "Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong."
I had a hard time with this last one. Everyone's advice on how to fix things seemed so sensible… until I'd fix something just to have a publisher say they didn't like that part of the story. Now I still listen to advice, of course – but I fix I it in a way that's true to the theme and the heart of that particular story.

More groups of author quotes:

 Go give it a look. Find your magic tips. And I hope my fellow Prosers and all the readers will share their favorites... I'm only at six out of ten, after all.


  1. As a writer it's Necessary that your word reach people'shearts and mind because writing is more powerful than the sword. Compelling, clear, error-free writing is what people expect when they buy a book.
    Writing Class

  2. I love this Sabrina!

    The writing tip that changed my life was written by Chris Baty (the creator of Nanowrimo). He said: "by the time you sit down to write first novel, you’ve read hundreds, if not thousands, of beautifully crafted, world-abandoning novels that have been edited probably a dozen times by a host of different people. But you never get to see what that thing looked like when that thing first tumbled out onto the author’s page. I mean, they hide those things for good reason. So our expectations for the caliber of our own first drafts are set terminally high. We basically think that if what we are writing is not as good as what we are reading, then there’s something really, really wrong...As every writer knows, the second draft is often just a world away from what you came out with the first time. But you have to have a first draft in order to get to the second draft...And I think we get so caught up in this crazy notion of competence: that if what we’re writing is not genius, then it’s just another confirmation that we are total failures. But you cannot write a book when you’re basically dragging this rhinoceros of self criticism behind you; it’s impossible."

  3. Tip #9. Join a writing group like Hatrack. It'll make you a better writer, make you serious about writing, and make you friends who are crazy in the same way.

  4. Thanks for sharing these tips and quotes Sabrina, very helpful.

    I blogged about this before, but my favorite writing quote is: “It is only when our characters and events begin to disobey us that they begin to live.” by John Fowles. I think this is good advice to not be trapped by our preconceived ideas of characters and plot lines and allow some flexibility for our characters and plots to develop. This is particularly important to me because I've made the mistake of not listening to my characters twice now, and I ended up having to go back and rewrite everything.

    Great post!

  5. Wonderful. The following from James D. MacDonald on Absolute Write has been my mantra lately:

    Pick two hours a day. It doesn't matter which two hours, but make them two hours that you can do every day.

    For that two hours, you will sit in front of your typewriter or computer. You will have no distractions. You will write, or you will stare at the blank screen. There will be no other options.

    Writing letters does not count. Reading does not count. Doing research does not count. Revising does not count. You will write new stuff, or you will stare at the screen.

    No TV in the room. No radio going. No internet. Fill the page or go mad.

    Two hours. Every day.

    Your body will rebel. You'll get headaches. You'll get colds. You aren't allowed a choice. You will sit in front of that screen even if your head is throbbing.

    Some days you will begin writing in a white-hot passion. You'll look up at the clock and discover that three hours have gone by.

    You don't get to only do one hour the next day. You still have to do two hours.

    Your mind will rebel. You'll want to clean the toilet, change the cat box, mow the lawn. But you won't, because there are no excuses. No, you don't get to reschedule for "later." Two hours, on schedule.

  6. Thanks for sharing, everyone!

    And Sheena, I should totally have had that as one of my top tips. Look what joining Hatrack has gotten me! Not only great advice on stories, but inclusion in the staff of FFO.... and, of course, this blog!


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